Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Rural-urban political split driven by design of our democracy and polarization of two-party system, Stanford prof argues

Much has been written about the rural-urban divide in American politics, which has been growing for two or three decades, but the trend is driven in part by the design of American democracy, Emily Badger writes for The New York Times, citing a new book by Stanford University political scientist Jonathan Rodden, called Why Cities Lose.

Because the Constitution gives every state two senators, “That’s an obvious problem for Democrats,” who have become concentrated in urban areas, Rodden told Badger. “This other problem is a lot less obvious.”

New York Times chart
Democrats' "other problem" is that they "tend to be concentrated in cities and Republicans to be more spread out across suburbs and rural areas," Badger writes. "The distribution of all of the precincts in the 2016 election shows that while many tilt heavily Democratic, fewer lean as far in the other direction. As a result, Democrats have overwhelming power to elect representatives in a relatively small number of districts — whether for state house seats, the State Senate or Congress — while Republicans have at least enough power to elect representatives in a larger number of districts. Republicans, in short, are more efficiently distributed in a system that rewards spreading voters across space."

Citing the 2018 congressional elections, in which Democrats won moderate, suburban districts from
Republicans, Roden told Badger that Democrats need moderate “blue dogs” to overcome their geographic disadvantage.

Rodden also attributes Democrats' disadvantage to the two-party system, which in recent years has become polarized on social issues. "Today the urban party is also the party of gay marriage and gun control. The more rural party is also the party of stricter immigration and abortion restrictions," Badger writes. "We keep adding more reasons to double down on geography as our central fault line, and to view our policy disagreements as conflicts between fundamentally different ways of living."

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